Definition & Facts for Diverticular Disease

In this section:

What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is a condition that occurs when small pouches, or sacs, form and push outward through weak spots in the wall of your colon. These pouches form mostly in the lower part of your colon, called the sigmoid colon.

One pouch is called a diverticulum. Multiple pouches are called diverticula. Most people who have diverticula in their colon do not have symptoms or problems. However, in some cases, diverticula may lead to symptoms or inflammation.

What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula become inflamed. Diverticulitis can come on suddenly and may lead to serious complications.

What is diverticular disease?

Diverticular disease occurs when diverticula lead to

How common are diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and diverticular disease?

Diverticulosis is quite common, especially as people age. More than 30% of U.S. adults between the ages of 50 and 59 and more than 70% of those older than age 80 have diverticulosis.1

Most people with diverticulosis will never develop symptoms or problems. Experts aren’t sure how many people with diverticulosis will develop symptoms if they do not have diverticulitis.

Less than 5% of people with diverticulosis develop diverticulitis.2 In the United States, about 200,000 people are hospitalized for diverticulitis each year.2 About 71,000 people are hospitalized for diverticular bleeding each year.3

Who is more likely to have diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and diverticular disease?

People are more likely to develop diverticulosis and diverticulitis as they age.

Among people younger than age 50, diverticulitis is more common in men than in women.2 However, among people ages 50 and older, diverticulitis is more common in women.2

Research suggests that, in the United States, diverticulitis is more common in white Americans than in other groups, and diverticular bleeding is more common in Black Americans than in other groups.3

What are the complications of diverticular disease?

Some people with diverticular disease may develop serious complications. For some people, complications may be the first sign of diverticular disease.

Diverticular bleeding

Diverticular bleeding occurs when a small blood vessel within the wall of a diverticulum pouch bursts. Diverticular bleeding is a common cause of bleeding in the lower digestive tract. The bleeding may be severe and life-threatening.

Diverticulitis complications

Diverticulitis may lead to complications such as

  • abscess, a painful, swollen, pus-filled area caused by infection
  • fistula, an abnormal passage or tunnel between the colon and another part of the body, such as the bladder or vagina
  • intestinal obstruction, a partial or total blockage of the movement of food, fluids, air, or stool through your intestines
  • perforation, or a hole, in your colon
  • peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity

References

Last Reviewed August 2021
Share

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.